President Donald Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Climate Deal is undoubtedly the most pivotal of his short presidency. In the long term, it could become a defining moment of not only Trump’s presidency, but American history. Trump’s controversial decision to withdraw from this international agreement will define American and global politics, economics, and the fight against climate change for years to come.
One of the most immediate repercussions of leaving the climate deal is the diplomatic penalty that comes with leaving an agreement of this magnitude. In leaving, the U.S. joins Nicaragua and Syria as one of the only countries not participating in the international agreement. Nearly every major world leader has expressed disappointment at this decision, with German chancellor Angela Merkel describing Trump’s decision as “extremely regrettable” and the leader of the European council branding it a “big mistake.”
In addition to worsening America’s international relationships, this decision will also hamper Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and American diplomatic efforts around the world. In fact, Tillerson had pressured Trump to remain in the climate deal, likely due to his knowledge of the international fallout leaving would cause.
Further confounding Tillerson is the reduced role the U.S. is now taking in the fight against climate change, leaving China and other competitors as the primary powers determining global climate policy. In leaving the climate deal, Trump has ceded a portion of America’s leadership of the globe and, in the words of former Secretary of State John Kerry, created a “global stain on our credibility.”
The reaction among Americans hasn’t been much different. A poll conducted by Politico found that 62 percent of Americans “wanted the U.S. to remain part of the accord.” Many American businesses, cities, and politicians have already condemned the president’s decision and pledged to commit themselves to fighting climate change. In fact, a group of businesses, mayors, and governors is attempting to negotiate membership to the agreement with the UN, although they are unlikely to be accepted.
The main justification used by Trump to defend his decision is economic. There are legitimate economic consequences to abiding by the climate deal, with the Heritage Foundation estimating that it would eliminate 300,000 jobs by 2035, increase household electricity expenditures by 13 to 20 percent, and create a total loss of over 2.5 trillion dollars in GDP. Under the agreement, America had pledged to give three billion dollars to a climate fund, more than double the contribution of the second largest donor. It is understandable that Trump and many of his voters expressed grievances about these economic costs.
However, leaving the accord is somewhat economically shortsighted. Top American business leaders, including the CEOs of Apple, Google, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, and ExxonMobil, had expressed support for the accord, arguing that remaining would encourage new investment and create jobs. In leaving the climate deal, Trump moves farther away from an economy powered by, and leading the world in, clean energy. The clean energy industry is growing faster than any other energy industry, currently employing over 2.5 million Americans and projected to create many more jobs as it grows. While leaving the Paris Climate Accord will present short term economic benefits, its long term effects on the development of America’s clean energy industry are more conspicuous.
Of course, the entire purpose of the Paris Climate Accord was to limit the increase of global temperatures to two degrees Celsius in the next century. The two degree threshold is considered by many scientists to be the “point of no return,” or the point at which climate change will become irreversible or even catastrophic. Even with the presence of the climate deal, many experts had predicted that the world was still on track for over three degrees of warming over the next century.
The Paris Climate Accord has only reduced the increase in temperature by an estimated 0.2 degrees Celsius more than what had been previously projected. It lacks an enforcement mechanism in the event that a country fails to abide by its pledges. It hopes that over time countries will adopt more ambitious goals and thus further reduce global warming. Without the U.S., the world’s largest carbon emitter, the success of the climate deal seems more implausible than ever.